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Digital Signage: is it Ever OK to Use a Consumer Display?

From the Printware Blog on Wednesday 27th July 2016

Digital signage is becoming a more popular and accessible medium for businesses of all sizes to communicate with customers in more creative, dynamic and eye-catching ways. However, the temptation with some is to choose a relatively cheap consumer model, or even a spare television. The common attitude is that a screen is a screen – what is the difference? Well, quite a bit, and it can even be quite easy to spot. Here are three things that are relatively noticeable when domestic screens are being used: at exhibitions, office or hotel foyers, the high street, to mention just a few...

The most obvious are those situated in bright conditions such a window or next to a strong light source. The chances are that you will still be able to see it, but your eyes may have to work harder to do so, as the brightness of the screen is not high enough to compete, or suffers from strong glare. Commercial screens are designed to be seen in any light conditions, from distance, and in a way that makes it very easy to see. On the other hand, TVs are normally used in much more controlled conditions – e.g. a typical living room– from the sofa! Why is this? Digital signage needs to catch attention and be easy to view or read, in the same way that advertising or traditional signage is. If it can’t be read or viewed from a distance or in bright sunlight your customers may walk right by, their attention taken by more eye-catching stimulus.

Digital Signage

Maybe the screen is in a location where there are no strong light sources in the vicinity, and can be viewed with no such problems. However, if you look at a screen from a wide angle, is it as easy to view as it is from straight on? If it is a TV, probably not. Consumer screens are designed for controlled conditions where the viewer will sit still and watch from a fixed location to the front: again, a sofa or armchair. Commercial displays on the other hand are designed for advertising applications. The visuals must be clear for the maximum time the viewer can see the message, to give the best chance of catching that viewer’s attention.

There is a third and even more straightforward way to spot if a screen is for domestic use: does it have a logo? Then it is almost certainly a television. Commercial screens are intended to market the customer’s product or service, not themselves. In contrast, TV manufacturers rely on their models marketing themselves. This is why logos are very prominent on TVs: so that the brand is in no doubt when it catches a viewer’s interest in a showroom (or a friend's living room…). Of course the majority of the time few onlookers will even notice the logo until they actively look for it. Still, most marketers will reject the prospect of a logo competing for attention – even subconsciously – so close to their message, especially as advertisements have only seconds to catch the attention of the passer-by.

Crucial as they are, these three points are not the only drawbacks consumer screens have in commercial settings.

What most business users will not know is that improper use of a consumer screen, ie in a commercial setting, will invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty. Of even more concern, if that screen happened to cause a fire, or any other damage, it would not be covered under commercial insurance and the business would likely be liable for any financial or legal consequences.

This could leave the business out of pocket, but there are threats to security that must also be considered. Most TVs can now be accessed remotely via free smartphone TV remote control apps that are available to anyone. Of greater concern, more severe attacks can be carried out by accessing the USB port that is now common on many televisions. Commercial screens cannot be accessed as easily with no connectivity from the front or sides of the chassis, and safeguards to prevent access from unauthorised users.

Even if these issues do not materialise, domestic screens will suffer through over-use through time. Image retention issues and colour fade will arise over time as the display suffers through longer hours of operation, usually with more static content. Screens designed specifically for digital signage applications will be built for over 50,000 hours of use, and incorporate technology to mitigate image retention problems.

Additionally, extra fans integrated into the screen will ensure that damage through excess heat is kept to a minimum – to the viewing surface itself and its surroundings.

It may seem at first glance that a screen is the same as any other – justifying the use of a consumer screen in place of a more costly commercial model. However, this is not the best long-term option. Inferior visuals, combined with potential financial, legal and security ramifications may arise. So, if you find yourself in this position, please ask yourself "is this really worth it?"

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